The Washington Treasury

The Washington Family
The Washington Family by Edward Savage, 1796.  George Washington Parke Custis is seen at the far left.

National Gallery of Art

“While there is much to admire in the external beauties of Arlington, the chief attractions are the pictures within, and the precious relics of the great Patriot which are preserved there.”- Historian Benson Lossing, 1853

Constructed between 1802 and 1818, Arlington House served not only as the Custis family home but also as the nation’s first memorial to George Washington. The home became renowned in the 19th century for its close associations to George Washington and Mount Vernon. It was the realization of George Washington Parke Custis’ dream.

George Washington Parke Custis and his sister Nelly were the two youngest grandchildren of Martha Dandridge Custis. They were raised from infancy by Martha and her second husband George Washington at Mount Vernon. Young Custis grew to revere Washington as a father and military hero. Even as an elderly man, Custis enjoyed being referred to as “the child of Mount Vernon.” On his grandmother’s death in 1802, Custis inherited many enslaved people and the Custis estates, including the 1,100 acres on the Potomac that became Arlington Plantation.

 
Washington's Deathbed
The bed on which George Washington died in 1799. It was brought to Arlington House where it was drawn by historian Benson Lossing in 1853. Today the bedstead is now back at Mount Vernon.

Benson Lossing

Custis first christened the property Mount Washington, later renaming it Arlington after an early Custis family plantation. Modeled after a Greek temple by architect George Hadfield, Custis turned the mansion into a museum for his “Washington Treasury,” a collection of Mount Vernon and Washington artifacts he delighted in showing to people. Among these artifacts were Washington and Custis family portraits and engravings, Washington China, the tents Washington used during the Revolutionary War, the lantern that hung in the mansion center hall at Mount Vernon, and, most important, Washington’s deathbed. Custis himself was an amateur artist who created plays, songs, and paintings to honor George Washington’s memory.

In 1804, Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh. In 1831, their only surviving child, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married Lt. Robert E. Lee, a childhood friend and distant cousin. Mary and Robert Lee had seven children and divided their time between Arlington House and Lee’s duty posts in various parts of the young country. Mary Lee inherited Arlington House when George Washington Parke Custis died in 1857. It was in this shrine to the Nation’s Founding Father that Robert E. Lee would confront the calamity of civil war in 1861.

 
The Battle of Trenton by GWP Custis
The Battle of Trenton by George Washington Parke Custis

NPS Image

Last updated: October 30, 2020

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700 George Washington Memorial Parkway
c/o Turkey Run Park

McLean , VA 22101

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